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Greg Brothers is an Adventist pastor in Oregon.

Monday, July 25, 2005

You CAN handle the truth

If Richard Nixon had told the truth, he’d still be President of the United States.

He’d be dead, but he’d still be President.

And that’s the point of this week’s lesson – that what you say you did can get you in more trouble than what you actually did.

Politicians know this. So do lawyers, used-car salesmen, and the people who used to run Enron. They all know how words can build trust – or break it.

More than that, they all know that our words show two things at one and the same time:

  • how much we trust other people.
  • how much we can be trusted.

Let’s say that I’m trying to sell you a car, for instance. It’s not a bad car – in fact, it belonged to my brother-in-law, who was meticulous in the way he took care of it. Then again, he did use it to tow a trailer . . . and that can be hard on a car.

So what do I do? Do I trust you with the information you need to make a good decision?

Or do I go with Jack Nicholson. Tell myself that “you can’t handle the truth.” And say that it was owned by a little old lady who only drove it to church?

The same is true of gossip, perjury, slander, and all the other ways that we get in trouble with the words that we use. Most of them boil down to the issue of trust – do they build it, or destroy it?

And that was the problem with Richard Nixon. For when all was said and done, Watergate really was nothing more than a third-rate burglary.

But when it came to what he said about Watergate . . . well, that is when people finally decided that Nixon might be smart. He might be hard-working. He might even have good ideas.

But there was just no way you would ever buy a used-car from that man.

Pastor Greg

And remember: “Truth is stranger than fiction, but not as popular" -- anonymous.

Saturday, July 16, 2005

More!

It’s the first wedding this particular pastor has performed, and he’s a little nervous. But so far, everything’s gone well. The vows have been made. The rings exchanged. And with the end in sight, the minister says, “I now pronounce you husband and wife!”

And then he freezes. He knows he’s supposed to say something else, but he can’t think what it is.

“I now pronounce you husband and wife . . .”

Freezes again. The crowd begins to stir.

Finally, he blurts out the first thing that comes to mind: “I now pronounce you husband and wife – go, and sin no more!”

Okay, it’s not a true story – it’s not even a very funny story.

But it illustrates a point you’ll need to make in this week’s lesson, and that is the nature of desire.

People who aren’t married have pretty much the same desires as the people who are – yet the same behavior we discourage in single people is encouraged in those who are married.

So what’s changed? Why is sexual desire so wrong when you’re single, and so right when you’re married?

The answer, of course, is that sexual desire isn’t wrong; it’s just not enough.

It was Augustine who noted that sin is really nothing more than a lack of something good in our life. Just as cold is the absence of heat, for instance, so too cowardice is the absence of courage, greed is the absence of charity, and anger marks the absence of patience and love.

Then too, even our virtues can steer us wrong if we lack other virtues as well. A soldier in battle needs courage, to give one example – but he needs wisdom as well. For courage without wisdom is foolhardy, just as wisdom without courage gives us all the more reason to be cowards!

In short, our problem isn’t the things we want so much as it is the things we lack. For sexual desire is good (just as courage is good). But just like courage, it’s not enough by itself; just like courage, it works best when something more is added. Something like love. And commitment. And integrity.

And yes, sometimes even a sense of humor.

Pastor Greg

And remember: “God, my heart is too small. Make it bigger!” – Augustine of Hippo.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

In the beginning was the Word

It was a dark and stormy night.

Really.

My family was staying on the first-floor of the girl’s dormitory at Maple View Academy. We were there for Minnesota Campmeeting – and that night, there was a tornado watch.

Now my wife is from New Zealand; she had no idea what to do in case of a tornado.

But both my parents are from Kansas, and I’d grown up hearing stories about tornados – and if you’ve ever heard tornado stories, then you know they come in two, basic forms:

  • the siren went off, and they’d just made it to safety when the tornado hit.
  • the siren went off, and they didn’t make it to safety before the tornado hit.

And the moral of both stories, of course, is that you’d better not waste time when there’s a tornado around!

“Just grab a kid and go,” I told my wife. “The hallway outside our room is the designated shelter for this building; once we’re there, we’ll take stock and decide what to do next.”

With that, we went to sleep.

The next thing I knew, I was standing in the hallway outside our dormitory room, holding our eldest daughter. My wife was coming out of the room behind me, holding our youngest daughter, and closing the door to our room. And as she did so -- even as I was waking up -- I realized:

  • As soon as my wife closed that door, it would lock itself – and neither one of us had a key.
  • The hall was rapidly filling up with people. (This was the shelter for the whole dormitory, remember.)
  • And neither my wife nor myself was wearing anything more than we’d worn to bed that night – and it was a warm night!

In short, I’ve heard about pastors who’ve dreamt they were standing in front of an audience, wearing nothing but their underwear – but so far as I know, I am the only pastor who’s actually done it!

Now why did this happen? What made me to do something that modesty (and common sense) would normally have prevented?

Simple: it was the stories – stories I’d grown up hearing. Stories I’d grown up believing. Stories that shaped my life in ways I never could have imagined.

That’s why this week’s lesson is so important – for this week, we’re going to talk about the thoughts that shape the lives of our students. Not just the occasional daydream or fantasy, but the stories. The plots. The themes that give structure and meaning to their lives.

There are people in your class, for instance, who are trying to be The Little Engine That Could. Others see themselves as Huckleberry Finn. Still others who’ve spent their whole lives trying to find a happy ending for Romeo and Juliet.

So take the time, this week, to listen for the stories. Ask questions:

  • What was your favorite story as a child – and how did it shape your life?
  • If your life was a TV show, which one would it be?
  • How is the story of your life tied in with the story of Jesus?

And no, this is not just some vapid excuse to “get in touch with your own feelings.”

For stories are powerful, remember. Stories make a difference. And the person who believes in the wrong kind of stories is apt to find themselves in all kinds of trouble.

Even at Campmeeting.

Even in Minnesota.

Pastor Greg

And remember: “Values are rooted in narrative” – Harvey Cox.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

July 3-9: Who sets your priorities?

Following God is like owning a dog.

Unfortunately, most of us would rather have a hamster.

And that’s what this week’s lesson is all about.

Over the years, you see, my children have cared for just about every kind of pet you can imagine: parakeets, lovebirds, hedgehogs, tropical fish, cats, hamsters, and a beagle who answers to the name of “Rosie” (though I generally call her “Booger”).

Now there’s no question that the easiest pet to own is definitely a hamster. Just add some food. Check the water. Change the bedding. And that’s it; you’re ready to go for another week.

But owning a dog – especially a beagle -- changes everything! As my wife says, “It’s like having a three-year-old who can run faster than you!” And just like a three-year-old, that dog affects everything – everything from the time you get up in the morning to where you go on vacation.

In short, you can buy a hamster, and still live pretty much the same life as you did before. But buy a dog, and you get a whole new life to go with it . . . whether you like it or not!

Likewise, many people in your class have some kind of connection with God. They know He exists. They believe He made us. And they like having Him around – if only for the sake of the children – just so long as He doesn’t start messing around with the rest of their lives!

But the kind of God you’ll be talking about in this week’s lesson . . . the kind of God who is revealed in Exodus 19 . . . the kind of God with whom Jesus struggled in the Garden of Gethsemane?

This is not a God who demands more!

No, this is a God who demands everything!

Then again, my dog is exactly the same. And if I’m willing to change my life for the sake of a 25-pound carnivore that snores . . .

Well, I’ll let you finish that sentence in this week’s Sabbath School lesson.

Pastor Greg

And remember: "If you don't know what is absolutely essential , then you'll waste all of your time doing those things that are merely important" -- Henri Nouwen.

Monday, July 04, 2005

So what do we do now?

The bad news is that this quarter's lessons are topical . . . which is another way of saying that you'll have to deal with teeny-tiny, itsy-bitsy pieces of Scripture that have been pasted together without any kind of context because they (supposedly) deal with a common topic.

The good news is that this quarter's topic is pretty good: spiritual growth, i.e. how to become the kind of person God wants you to be.

The bad news is that some of your class members have a pretty strange idea of just what kind of person God wants them to be -- and if you don't believe that, then ask them to describe what a "spiritual" person is like! Chances are, they'll tell you that a really spiritual person is:

  • an elderly female introvert
  • with no sense of humor
  • who wears really ugly clothes,
  • brings tofu to church potlucks,
  • and is none-too-bright.

And while I've nothing personally against people like that, I certainly wouldn't want to be someone like that.

The good news, of course, is that we can trust God's plans for us. "For I know the plans I have for you," He says in Jeremiah 29:11. "Plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give [us] a hope and a future."

And learning how to make these plans come true over the course of our life -- that's what this quarter is all about.

Well . . . that's what this quarter can be all about -- but it's going to take some work.

Let's get started!

Pastor Greg

"From silly devotions and sour-faced saints, O Lord deliver us!" -- Teresa of Avila.